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Obesity in the Over 50’s

A major study of the over-50s in Ireland over five years has found more than one third are obese (severely overweight), which it says is “strongly associated” with the onset of cardiovascular disease and “a significantly higher prevalence” of diabetes. Previous Minister for Health Dr. James Reilly was said to be “struck” by some “worrying trends” in the findings; with a further 44 per cent of over 50’s being overweight,  is another serious cause for concern,” he said.

The findings are published in 2014 as part of the second major report by the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), which is a national study of more than 8,000 people aged 50 and over in Ireland. The report is based on data collected between April 2012 and January 2013 and shows how the lives of the over-50s in Ireland have changed over the period since they were last interviewed in 2009 and 2010.

Rates of cardiovascular disease among obese over-50s are nearly twice as high as rates among those of normal weight.

At the moment there growing prevalence of obesity amongst children gains frequent media attention.  Have we forgotten about our elders? It has been debated amongst health professionals that children should have their weight checked and their growth / development monitored with each GP visit.  Maybe we should be applying this movement right across the board with people of all ages?  Having worked as a hospital Dietitian in the past, I have seen cases where it was debated by the doctors whether or not to refer someone of 70 years of age to the Dietitian specifically for weight reduction advice.  Given that life expectancy is on the incline, maybe we should not feel bad about such a change in attitude or practice.  After all, becoming  a health weight is not only beneficial for achieving good health, but also for vanity and reasons such as self confidence and ease of purchasing normal size clothes.  Our current national drive to combat childhood obesity is a very necessary one. Yet these findings therefore, remind us that obesity is a lifelong issue and one that will require sustained and targeted interventions across all age groups and into the years ahead.

The research also found that over half of those aged 75 and over have arthritis.  We know that carrying that extra few pounds of body fat puts unnecessary additional pressure on the joints of the hips, knees and ankles.

Nearly 20 per cent of men and 25 per cent of women over-50 have fallen in 2014, and almost 10 per cent of the over-50s have had a fall requiring medical treatment.  Given the high prevalence of osteoporosis in Ireland, this number of falls is a concern also i.e. one in five men and one in two women over 50 in Ireland, will break bones due to osteoporosis. “TILDA has demonstrated strong associations between obesity and diabetes and cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, angina and heart attacks. The high prevalence of obesity and associated chronic disease is a cause for concern. Given current and future dramatic changes in the Irish population, with one fifth of people aged over 65 by 2060, TILDA will greatly assist new policy initiatives to address health behaviours and disease prevention so that our later life years can be healthy and independent.